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Money, Decision-making, and Democracy: A New Experience from Buenos Aires

Alvaro Herrero|

One of the positive outcomes of the OGP Subnational Pilot Program is that it creates relationships among like-minded cities and governments. These relationships result in exchanges of knowledge, practices, and experiences. Buenos Aires Elige (BA Elige), a platform through which citizens can bring their ideas, discuss them and make them compete for the support of fellow-citizens, is an initiative that exemplifies the results of such collaboration.

Indeed, during the Open Government Regional Meeting of Subnational Governments held in Buenos Aires in November 2016, Miguel Arana, the Director of the Participation Project in the City of Madrid, came to share Decide Madrid!, an already working platform, which enabled what Buenos Aires officials were thinking of doing; bringing people’s ideas to bare on the way the state allocates its funds. The Decide Madrid! platform, built on free software, was readily available for Buenos Aires officers to use. And so they did.On March 30, Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta presented the project to an engaged and enthusiastic group of neighbors.

The idea behind both, Decide Madrid and BA Elige, is similar; to involve citizens directly in the allocation of public funds, and take advantage of their ideas and commitment. In a way, these initiatives use new technologies and our ever-connected citizens to put an innovative twist on the former idea of the participatory budget concept. We believe these initiatives are the evolution of said concept.

BA Elige has four stages:

  1. Creation. Here, citizens contribute ideas and projects. Anyone of any background can chip in. They don’t even need to live in Buenos Aires. As an increasingly global city, Buenos Aires can benefit from the ideas of anyone around the world.

  2. Support. The proposals made by citizens receive support of their fellow citizens. The idea is to make them compete with one another, so the best ideas– the most relevant which more clearly address the city’s challenges — will win more support than the others.

  3. Analysis. All ideas pass through a filter of public officials in charge of weighing the ideas in terms of their feasibility. Those which are too costly, for instance, would not pass this analysis. The goal is to make sure that all the ideas that will go through the final steps of the process are feasible, given that the final step is decisive.

  4. Voting. Finally, all citizens of Buenos Aires over 16 years of age will be able to vote on the final pool of ideas. And their vote will decide which ideas become an actual project and which don’t. The government of the city of Buenos Aires will not intervene at this stage. Winning ideas will be budgeted and planned accordingly, and the relevant governmental agency will oversee their execution.

The allocated budget for this project is roughly 35 million USD. The amount involved shows the kind of faith and confidence the city government has in its citizens, a group of diverse, enthusiastic, informed, and involved individuals of diverse backgrounds, faiths, and ideas. These funds will be distributed among the city’s comunas, the administrative departments in which the city territory is subdivided. More money will go to the comunas which, according to socio-economic data, need them the most. There will be categories to help citizens navigate proposals (innovation, culture, transportation, waste management, and so on) and voting will take place on August, 2017.

When Madrid showed the discussion processes around Madrid Decide! on social media, earlier this year, we were extremely excited to see the pictures and Madrid citizens’ commitment. A process of collective deliberation around ideas produced by the citizens themselves seems like a dream come true for direct democracy enthusiasts. And that is so because cities can engage citizens in a different way than national governments. Their needs, concerns and ideas are closer to the government officials in charge of answering them. In a context where democratic governance around the globe is going through a time of anxiety, city governments can innovate in a way which signals the path of a possible future for democratic institutions.


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